Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: grief sucks (page 1 of 2)

Grief Is Like A Jar Of Pickles

Matt,

Since your death, I’ve been living not just with complicated grief, but also with PTSD.   There are days when the slightest noise has me hanging from the ceiling.   I struggle with feelings of not knowing where I fit in anymore.   There are days I question my role here on earth.   Your addiction kept me crazy but your death left me broken and questioning life.

The old me left the day you did and the new me struggles with who I’m supposed to be now.   It feels like being transported to another place where you don’t understand the language.   You constantly get lost and find yourself looking for something familiar.

I’ve learned that very few people understand when I try to explain what it’s like to be me.   They think I should be back to my pre-grief state.   That life should just return to normal and drag me with it.   What they don’t and never will understand is that profound loss slices you in half.   You become the “before” and the “after” pieces of your tragedy.   As time passes the “before” you drifts further and further away.   Leaving you with an identity that even you can’t identify with.   You long for the old you but know the road back to finding her again has imploded.

I find it harder and harder to remember the woman I was before your death.   The girl who laughed at the stupidest of things.   Who would even laugh at herself.   I remember looking forward to little things.   I remember having happy hours and bon fires.   I remember having lots of fun.   I remember a reflection with bright eyes and a natural smile.   Now I see a silhouette in a fog slowly drifting away.

Trauma changes you.   It unravels you.  It takes you to the darkest of places.   Things you once thought would never happen have happened leaving you hanging from that mental cliff clinging to the last piece of your soul.   The “before” you has been sucked away and the “after” you lay in pieces at your feet.   You try to make sense of this “after” you, but the pieces are hard to fit together.   Like a puzzle that just doesn’t make sense when a large part of it is missing.

I was with a friend one day.   This friend totally gets where I’m coming from.   She understands when I say the “before” me has vanished and this new “after” me is still struggling to fit.   Like a pair of old jeans that once felt like home now rewoven and uncomfortable.   She has survived her own trauma.   The assault of breast cancer on her body and mind.   Like me the “before” her was totally destroyed and replaced with an “after” person she continues to try to identify with.   We both grieve the women we once were.   We often compare notes on how things continue to have a trickle down effect on both our lives.

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During one of these conversations she said something that gave me an Ah ha moment putting a true perspective on what I’ve been living with since your death.   Without even knowing how profound this statement was and how it would impact me for the rest of my life she calmly looked me in the eye and said, “Once you become a pickle you can never go back to being a cucumber”.    Yes, I know it sounds like a crazy thing to say in the midst of an emotional conversation, but when you really think about it, it’s the most insightful statement I’ve ever heard about who you become after you live with grief or survive a trauma.

The transformation from cucumber to pickle can never be reversed.   Everything used in the process leaves a permanent mark.   The same with grief, whether it’s over the loss of a child or the loss of a healthy you, it leads you through a process that can never be undone.

There are days when the world can be sweet, then without warning an unexpected trigger can turn everything dark.   Just like a jar of pickles we never know how the day will taste.   Will it leave us with an unpleasant bitterness or a fleeting moment of unexpected pleasure.  We never know how the “after” effects of grief  will play out as we navigate unfamiliar territory.

It continues to amaze and comfort me that a simple statement had the power to  validate what I feel on a daily basis.  It also brings me extreme comfort knowing that I’m not the only pickle trying to find my place in the glass jar called life…..

 

 

 

 

Surviving Those Aftershocks

Matt,   an aftershock is defined as a smaller earthquake that follows a larger earthquake.   It generally occurs in the same area as where the main shock occurred and is caused by the displacement of the earth that followed that first main shock.

Part of living through earthquakes is learning to live with aftershocks.   It’s obvious I lived through my first major quake.   January 3rd 2015 my world was hit with a quake of unmeasurable magnitude.   That day my life was knocked off it’s axis and left free spinning into an atmosphere of shock and immeasurable grief.

Since that day these unexpected aftershocks hit just when my mind is starting to feel stable once again.    I’ve read aftershocks can last for years.   I’m living proof of that truth.    Four years and ten days have passed and the ground beneath my feet remains unsteady.

Grief is a lot like aftershocks.    One never knows when that shaking, unstable feeling will strike.    Usually there is no warning.   A thought, a memory, a word can bring on the most unsteady of feelings.   Almost like the ground is moving under my feet.    It’s a feeling of being out of control.   Of wondering what is happening and why now.

I’ve come to understand that most of what has been written about grief is untrue.    Grief knows no time limit.   It doesn’t lessen as the years pass.   It doesn’t let go after you have passed all those “firsts”.    It certainly doesn’t follow any stages or steps.   It knows no boundaries.    There are no certain series of programs or steps to follow to get you through to the end.   Because there really is no end.    Grief is the journey of aftershocks that hit unexpectedly and can be as powerful as that first major shock.

I have days where I feel pretty steady.   Days where I can think of you and smile as a memory flows through the projector in my brain.   Days when I can tell your story without feeling that jolt of reality hit my piece of earth.   Days when I can enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face as I remember our talks on the beach.   Days I see your smiling face as a breeze blows my hair gently across my cheek as if a kiss is coming from heaven.  I treasure those days.   Those are the days I feel like I will survive even when the aftershocks hit.

Just when I’m feeling the illusion of joy, I feel the shift.   Some days the jolt hits as my eyes open and reality is there waiting for me.    My brain starts screaming, “He is dead”.   “Matt really died”. Its then the aftershock throws me off balance.   I see the cracks opening in the earth beneath my feet.   I catch my breath as I try to navigate through the rubble that was once my intact heart.   The immense power of the aftershock of reality put me on unstable ground and has me questioning my surviving the next one.

I want to scream.   I want to punch.   I just want not to be.    I want to disappear.   I want to run as far away as I can.   To leave this unstable ground and find a safe place to dwell.   I want my ground not to shift on a dime.   I want to walk on a steady path not this twisted, shattered piece of earth.

There are days the aftershocks leave me paralyzed as I try to navigate an escape.    Days when the grief is relentless and nothing I do helps erase the pain.    What I once thought about life has shifted.   I used to think life would go according to my plans.   Every belief has started to crack as I continue to live with your loss.   All my hopes and dreams fell through the earth and have disappeared from my life forever.

Aftershocks have been noted to be more dangerous and damaging than the original earthquake.    I once thought that had to be a falsehood.   But as I continue to live through years of aftershocks, I realize they are far more powerful than the original assault.   The aftershocks are constant reminders that my ground will never go back to what it once was.    That I will always be at risk for an aftershock to hit and knock me off my feet.   That my terrain will always be full of fault lines and my grief will find a way through.

Grief and aftershocks have a lot in common.    We are never given a warning.    They hit.   Making us unstable.   Shaking our once steady world changing the way we look at life.   Aftershocks like grief can be deep or close to our surface.   What matters most is we recognize them when they hit.   We stop and feel them.   We allow ourselves to be where we need to be as the earth shifts.   We allow ourselves the time to learn how to navigate through our fault lines.

 

I Never Expected This……

Matt,   Today is January 3rd.   The 4th anniversary of your death.  The weather mimics my spirit, cold and gloomy.   I’ve made no plans for today.  I just can’t come to the beach and walk where we once did.  I’ve chosen to just be and let my grief have its way……..

I can remember every moment after hearing those words I prayed never to hear.   Four years ago at 12:15 while working in the NICU taking care of ill babies, I learned that you were gone.  I remember a feeling of leaving my body to escape the pain as my heart was breaking.  I remember someone screaming, never thinking it was me…

I remember hearing words telling me to breathe, to sit, to drink.   I remember how badly I wanted my heart to stop beating so I could be where you were…

Four years later I still seek you.   I expect to see you coming through my door with Kahlua at your heels.  I expect you to grab a drink from the fridge and suck it down from the carton, laughing at me as I try to force a glass into your hand.

I expect you at the dinner table as we share stories about our day.   I expect you to give me a hug and to hear “love you Mom”, before you descend the stairs to your man cave.

I never expected this.   This overwhelming, never ending, life shattering grief.   I never expected to lose you so suddenly and unexpectedly.   I never thought that pictures and memories would be all that was left of our life.   I never expected that four years later my heart would still be screaming as it was the moment you left me behind….

I never expected that I would be constantly be looking for signs.   Searching the clouds for angels and crosses.  Searching for stones and leaves in the shape of hearts.   I never expected to have my breath sucked out of my lungs after seeing a can of Beef-A-Roni in the grocery isle.   I never expected to have a meltdown at the moment I hear a song or see the waves hitting the shore where we once walked together…

I never expected that seeing two little boys playing together would cause a physical ache in my soul.   I never expected that seeing two fathers laughing together watching their children play would remind me of what I would never see now that you are gone….

I never expected to be this person.   A ghost of who I used to be.   The eyes staring back at me break my heart.  I never expected to be the one left behind.   I never expected the pain of losing you would continue to be so powerful and soul crushing.  I never expected that four years later the tears would still fall as they did in the early days.  I never expected to visit a garden with a cold stone engraved with your name….

I never expected to fight for my sanity.   I never expected to walk this painful journey.   I never expected that life would turn out as it has.   I never expected to live this painful lesson of not taking a day for granted…..

I never expected to be writing letters to you that you would never read.  I never expected any of what I live with since your death.   I never expected you to die….

Four years later.   I never expected this…………………….

Nothing Happy About My New Year

Matt,   Today is December 31st.   The final day of 2018.   I’m fighting my demons.   Trying to stay away from that dark place where I sit on that slippery slope.   The place where memories become almost too painful that I fight to keep them out of my head.

Our last New Years Eve was in 2014.   We were one thousand miles apart.   I was sitting watching the snow fall and the ball drop welcoming 2015 into our lives.   You were sitting on a beach attending an outdoor NA meeting.   Two different places but with hearts connected.   We spoke briefly.   I told you how proud I was of you and your new found sobriety.   We talked about how your life was finally getting back on track.   We talked about our expectations for 2015 and started the count down until we would see each other again.   I was so looking forward to getting out of this cold and joining you on a sunny beach.

We ended our call with I love you’s as we always did.   I saw your Facebook post about doing the right thing.   You were posting about attending a meeting on New Years Eve instead of partying. My heart was so happy to read those words.   My hope for 2015 was to have you back.   That my amazing Matt was coming back to the surface.   The Matt I knew before the demons took over your soul.   Gazing at the stars on that crisp night, I sent a prayer to the heavens to keep you safe.   I feel asleep thinking we had survived your addiction and this New Year would bring us both peace.

Two days later you were dead.   January 3rd of 2015.  That day hopes and dreams for a happy new year shattered at my feet.   That day my soul shattered like a glass thrown against a concrete wall.   In too many pieces to salvage.

So here I am facing another New Years Eve with only memories to sooth my broken heart.   Facing the fact that January 3rd is coming again.   Reality is difficult to comprehend.   The fact that 2018 will be gone in the blink of an eye, at the drop of a ball, as smiling people begin their resolutions for this New Year.

My heart is jealous of the happy crowds.   Those people who have no idea how painful it is to watch 2014 or 2018 disappear to the count of ten.   Ushering in a New Year is not what I want to do.   I want that ball to go backward.   I want that ball not to drop but to travel back in time.   I want the new year to be an old year returning to when you were alive.

A month after you died, I received a box from Florida.   It contained a few of your personal possessions.   As I opened the box, your smell surrounded my being.   The hat you wore to your meeting on New Years Eve was staring back at me.   Immediately that photo of you flashed through my brain.   I could see your smiling face as you blew a horn welcoming in 2015.

I can’t tell you how many times through the year I’ve run my hands over your hat.   I cover my face searching for your scent.   I hold that hat close to my heart as if I’m giving you a New Years hug.

Tonight I will let my tears flow at will.   Tonight I will gaze at the stars sending a prayer that you are at peace spending this night celebrating in heaven.   Tonight I allow myself to feel what I feel taking each moment as I can.   Tonight watching the ball drop will  be a painful reminder that time does not stop marching on……..

 

Come, Sit, Grieve…..Repeat

Matt,   I could never have imagined the impact your death would have on every aspect of my life.   Never did I ever think my grief would turn me into a leper.   It seems people are terrified of those who are grieving.   Scared to death of contact with me or have that famous opinion on how long grief should last.   I’m guessing my time is up.  Even strangers run when I bring up addiction and your death.   It’s almost that I carry a contagious disease and if they get close enough they will carry it home to their family.   Like the flu, only worse.

Unfortunately, your disease still carries an ugly stigma.   I see the look on peoples faces when they learn how you died.   They can’t get away fast enough.   Quickly changing the subject as they scurry away.   I feel like I have that huge A branded on my forehead.  Except my A stands for Addiction.    I still find it mind boggling that even today as we continue to lose people from all walks of life  Addiction is still thought of as a dirty mans disease.

Experts on grief tell you to find a support group.   Sounds easy right.  I had a better chance of being struck by lightening.  You see Matt,  my grief comes with a ton of baggage.   All those what if’s and I should have’s cling to my heart and take turns tearing little pieces away.   Death due to overdose comes with such regret.   Things said and done dance with those things not said and not done.   Until you have lived that rollercoaster with your child one could ever understand the helplessness and hopelessness parents feel as we struggle to save our kids.   Death from overdose is unlike any other loss.   Not only do we struggle with grief but the stigma continues to rear its ugly head throwing daggers in our direction.

My attempts to find that group where I would fit in was futile.   Believe me I tried for several months.   I sat next to mothers who lost their children to cancer and felt the compassion ooze around the room.   I remember sitting there feeling that all familiar tightness grip my throat.   Then it was death by car accident.   Once again compassion.   I wanted to be Alice and slide down that rabbit hole.   I wanted to be Jeannie wiggling my nose and disappearing into thin air.   I wanted to be anywhere but in that room when I said that ugly word and felt the compassion wash away with the breaths of shock and stares.

Then it was off to another group that actually dealt with addiction.   Oh I had such high hopes.   Finally a group that got it.   Imagine my surprise when I was subjected to another parent beaming with joy.   My mind whirling as I realized this group was largely made up of parents who’s kids were either in recovery or still active in their addiction.   My mind whirling, my gut revolting as I heard her voice praising God for saving her child.   I felt like I’d been slapped.   How dare God save her child and not mine.   I remember wanting to run.   Wanting once again to disappear.   I made myself sit for an hour hearing more stories of recovery.   Stories of continued struggles that I knew too well.   I left sobbing and defeated.

I hid for months, licking my wounds feeling isolated and alone.   I scoured bookstores.   My shelves now lined with books on grief and grieving.   Reading the stories of other parents whose children also died from addiction gave me the push I needed.   I once read that when God closes one door, He opens another.   As a nurse I’ve spend many years holding hands and shedding tears with people who have lost their loved ones.   As a NICU nurse I’ve also helped grieving parents say goodbye to their child.   I remember praying asking God what my purpose was now that you were gone.   I spent the last 7 years fighting to save you.   Now I had all this time to discover my new path.

Support After Addiction Death (SAD) was born on a rainy, bitter day.   Sitting at my computer I designed a pamphlet.   Explaining how and why I was starting a support group exclusively for parents who lost a child to the misunderstood disease of addiction.   Our pastor offered our church.   The same church I said my final goodbye to you.   The same church where your ashes were scattered in the garden I tend as we celebrated your first birthday in Heaven.

Today I have a new family.   Mothers and fathers who know and live the same grief that envelopes my life.   We gather together and shed our tears.  Our eyes mirror images of unfathomable  pain.   Lifting each other on those dark days when one of us is drowning.   I look into their eyes and know no words are necessary.   We have lived the nightmare.   Our ending is not the one we dreamed of but together we find strength in the blessing of finding each other.   There is no shame, no stigma.   Sharing pieces of our broken hearts we begin to slowly heal.   Our children gone but never forgotten.   Pictures are shared.   Birthdays are remembered.   Names are spoken.   Many tears are shed.   Memories are cherished.

God did close the door for me when it came to saving you.   God also opened a new world where I can once more reach out, offer a hug and just show up.   Grief doesn’t scare this group.   Grief is a part of who we are.  Grief is the unwanted, unspeakable place that bonds us more than blood.  As long as I live I will be grateful for the people who say your name, offer a hug and stay……….

 

 

 

 

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